Appellation (Shelby Newsome)

“Stephen,” I moaned. The syllables danced through the thin sheet of air between us. You gave one last performative thrust and peeled off me, collapsing by my side. I turned away from you, the covers twisting around my legs, and felt your body mold to the slope of my back. Your breathing was heavy but steady. I held mine, waiting for you to say something, but you didn’t. I had called you by the wrong name—again.

You never noticed. Not when you were an aisle over from me in Costco and I asked if you got the toilet paper. Not when I introduced you to the new neighbor across the street. Not when we watched TV on the couch and you started tickling me because you thought it was sexy. I got away with it each time. And each time a flash of guilt swept through my body. 

I practiced saying your name out loud when I was in the bathroom. I watched as my reflected mouth moved with such accuracy. Steven. Steven. Steven. Ven. Ven. Ven. The harshness of the second syllable flicked off of my bottom lip. Perfection.

Yet, when I looked at you, his face was transposed onto yours. And when I said your name, the softness of the ph left my mouth. The difference was microscopic, a slight drawl when I reached the end of the first syllable, before the back of my throat could pull out the second.

On our fifth date, I tried to bring him up to you, to highlight the weirdness of going from one Stephen to another. You held up your hand as if to shush me, claiming you didn’t care about my past. You had me now. 

But maybe if you had heard about my past—the intensity of that relationship, the unresolved feelings that scratched open like a nagging scab—you wouldn’t want me now. Maybe you would then question your name and whether it sounded like I spoke six letters or seven. Maybe then I could tell you it wasn’t like I was pining for him, rather a feeling, an excitement that came with the uncertainty. I still wanted to resort to the habits built from instability instead of the ones I was learning with you. I didn’t trust us yet as something sturdy, viable.

You not knowing only made it worse. I started to delight in getting away with the most. A flicker of rapture that kept me satiated until the next time I could call out the wrong name—an homage to the turbulence that kept me moving for so long. There was a devious, daring space inside me that longed to be filled with this chaos. I acquiesced each time. 

I rolled over in bed so that I was facing you. Your arm wrapped around me, a dopey smile spread across your face. My fingers danced along your chest. I spelled out his name on your collarbone and smiled back at you. 


Shelby Newsome is a writer living in Maryland. Her fiction has appeared in Tart Magazine’s newsletter. She is an associate fiction editor at JMWW Journal. You can catch up with her on Twitter at @shelbyanewsome and Instagram at @shelby_newsome.


image: MM Kaufman